City commissioners in Portland divest cannabis funds from the police

Jun 15, 2020

Weeks of national demonstrations and sustained political pressure following the death of George Floyd have slowly and methodically brought much-needed change and awareness to the conversation on race and police brutality. Last Thursday, the movement inched closer to its overall goal when the Portland City Council approved a budget amendment to divest cannabis tax revenue from city law enforcement, reallocating the money into the community and towards police alternatives.

According to a statement from City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the cuts approved on Thursday, combined with additional cuts put in place by the Mayor earlier this year, will result in the Portland Police Bureau receiving $27 million less in funding than it did last year. Although the budget was not approved unanimously on Thursday, it will come up for a second vote sometime this week, where it only needs a majority to pass.

“A budget is a moral document,” said Commissioner Hardesty in a statement. “This is something I’ve said repeatedly since entering office in 2019. Today’s city council vote has always been about aligning our budget with our values, and today, we took a vital step towards that realignment and towards collectively re-envisioning of what community safety can look like through our budget. That took the form of divesting funds from the Portland Police Bureau budget and reallocating the funds for our communities and police alternatives.”

According to Hardesty’s statement, the new budget will defund the city’s Gun Violence Reduction Team, School Resource Officers, Transit Police unit, and stop using cannabis tax funds to fill funding gaps for the city’s Traffic Division. 

Not everyone on the council was on board with the decision. City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was a “no” vote, arguing that council didn’t go far enough when it came to making cuts against law enforcement. Eudaly’s position is not unreasonable, however, considering the amount of money that previously went towards funding the Portland Police Bureau.

In 2019, a report put out by the Portland City Auditor showed that an astounding 79 percent of cannabis tax revenue went into law enforcement in the city every year since cannabis first was legalized. This, despite the fact that when Recreational Marijuana Sales Measure 26-180 was passed in 2016, it was supposed to give tax revenue funds to drug and alcohol treatment, public safety investments, and support for neighborhood small businesses.

Activists and other insiders in the cannabis community have recently made powerful calls for Portland to defund the police department through the divestiture of cannabis tax revenue funds. Last week, the Minority Cannabis Business Association put out a statement supporting such a move, noting the history over-policing in black communities. Representatives from the MCBA elevated their statement past Portland, calling on all local governments nationwide to end the policy of using cannabis tax revenues to fund law enforcement.

“It is outrageous that in a city like Portland we are funding the disruption of our own communities with money meant to uplift us,” said Dr. Rachel Knox, Chair of the Oregon Cannabis Commission, member of Portland’s Cannabis Policy Oversight Team, and Board member of MCBA in a statement. “We must end this insult to our communities and focus 100 percent of those dollars to a health equity framework immediately.” 

“To delay this common-sense policy is to ensure the protests will continue,” she continued.

The MCBA has been at the forefront of the conversation on cannabis and race in recent weeks, leading with strong statements on the demonstrations that have taken over the country. Many in their ranks, they noted, have been targeted by law enforcement because of the color of their skin.

“This is not just an Oregon problem, this is a national disgrace.” Said Jason Ortiz, President of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and police accountability activist in a statement. “We call on all cannabis justice activists to investigate their municipal finances, their local cannabis company investments, and discover if and how dollars meant for community uplift are being sent to law enforcement. This mockery of justice is a shameful moment in our history, and we will not allow it to be our future.”

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